By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
A new generation is pitching in with Carbondale Daughters of Rebekah, and it’s none too soon.
Although the group has a steady volunteer base to help with the Near New secondhand store, active membership has declined over the years. Now, Rochelle Norwood has joined the fold as one of the youngest members in years, and with a couple other 30-somethings slated for induction early next month.
“The potential is so great, and they’ve been really open to us and our crazy ideas, but there’s no rush to change anything about the way this place is run,” Norwood observed. “It’s been serving its role really well for 40 years.”
A branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Rebekahs date back to 1851 when future U.S. Vice President Schuyler Colfax pushed for a role for the daughters and wives of male members. Founded on ideals of friendship, love and truth, the order has endured and thrived locally even as the Odd Fellows faded.
The original Carbondale lodge burnt down in 1902 and was rebuilt in its current form at the corner of 3rd and Main in 1905. Its cornerstone bears a USGS marker for 6,181 feet above sea level, and thus is likely the reference point for the town’s posted elevation.
For many years, lodge business was conducted upstairs while the downstairs was rented out as a church, dance hall and even a paint store. In 1975, however, the Eastern Stars, a branch of the Freemasons, were looking for someone to run their Near New store nearby, and the Rebekahs decided to take it on. It started small, but eventually expanded to fill the whole lower floor.
The store is an all volunteer operation, and all funds raised after expenses go to various charitable causes. The Rebekahs funds scholarships to Carbondale and Basalt high school graduates every year, as well as a United Nations trip for high school juniors. Applications for the latter are available at the Near New and due by Feb. 15 – call 379-1759 for more information.
As one of the few lodges with a store, they’re also able to lend out props for plays and help folks who have lost posessions in a fire. They also rent out wheelchairs, crutches and the like, though with space running out they’re hoping someone else might take that on.
Over the years, the space also became something of a social hub.
“There were five or six old guys who would come in, make coffee, sit here and visit,” recalled treasurer Donna Natal, “It was nice for them and nice for us.”
Although that tradition has passed on with most of its adherents, it remains something more than a secondhand store.
“A lot of people don’t buy,” Natal observed. “They just come in to check it out and say hello.”
Unfortunately, not everyone is so low impact. Although there are plenty of signs discouraging dumping during off hours, the stoop gets filled with bags, anyway. The list of things they simply don’t take — televisions, mattresses, broken electronics, food and the like — is largely ignored.
“A lot of people are just bringing us trash. You might get two or three bags out of 15 with stuff we can actually sell,” Natal noted. “You have to go through them all, and that’s work. We’re getting worn out. We can’t do it all anymore.”
“A lot of our older members have moved away or passed on,” added Noble Grand Louise Holgate.
Enter Norwood and Olivia Pevec, cofounders of Scavenger Industries, an organization dedicated to upcycling junk into crafts.
“It’s all material. It has a life after we throw it away,” Pevec observed. “It’s a culture that is at one time fading and at the same time having a renaissance.”
Indeed, when they begin looking to open an outlet downtown a little over a year ago, someone pointed out that most of what they were after already existed at the Near New.
“We decided to get a better sense of the reality of dealing with the waste stream,” Pevec explained. “We decided, ‘why start something that’s already happening when we could join up with an organization that needs a little infusion of energy?’”
The pair drafted a letter to the Rebekahs and were invited to join. Norwood was initiated in the spring, while Pevec is still serving as a regular volunteer until the next initiation. The pair of them are the core of a crew that holds court on Fridays.
“We’re proud to be here,” Norwood said. “I think you have to be comfortable with yourself to work and shop at a thrift store.”
Scavenger Industries now has some space at 13 Moons Ranch, where they have already hosted craft events with Rebekahs from Carbondale and beyond.
“It was so fun to suddenly have this group of older ladies who were our friends,” Norwood said. “I love old people. I love kids. I love the full community spectrum.”
With more volunteers, the ladies hope they might be able to eventually expand the schedule – currently 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday – to better serve working families. They also dream of someday selling more upcycled goods and craft supplies at the Near New, but in the meantime the arrangement is already enriching Scavenger Industries as a sort of “Main Street branch.”
“It’s fun to be in the middle of this community,” Pevec said. “I think it’s a resource that’s worth investing in.”
Published in The Sopris Sun on January 12, 2017.